Thursday, February 29, 2024

Sad eyes and smooth faces – post-Baltimore observations

Good morning from Brixton where the mercury is expected to rise to 40°C later today. 

I’ve only ever experienced that heat once before, in Seville in 1996, and I’m intrigued as to whether I’m going to be able to survive without access to air conditioning, a swimming pool or a fan. London clearly isn’t built for such conditions although some bright spark has recently opened a coffee shop at the end of my road that sells ice cream.

Salted caramel with chocolate sprinkles is completely legit before 10am on a Monday, right? 

The last time we spoke, I hinted I might not watch the Everton match because it was being played in the middle of the night. Ultimately, it wasn’t the kick-off time but ill-discipline that stopped me from tuning in live. 

I made it to Dulwich Hamlet on Saturday afternoon to watch Mehmet Ali’s under-21s play out a 0-0 draw at Champions Hill but then had a brainwave, possibly influenced by the glorious sunshine, that drinking booze on the other side of London could be fun. 

“I have to be back for midnight,” I told my friend when I arrived in London Fields. 

“Why?” he said. 

After a moment of hesitation, I replied: “Arsenal are playing Everton in a pre-season friendly in Baltimore.” 

He gave me a sympathetic look, smiled and the rest, via several gin and tonics, is history. 

At some point during the course of the evening (off the back of a furtive glance at the Arsenal app), I told him that Gabriel Jesus had scored his third goal in two games and he rolled his eyes at me like I was a Conservative party leadership candidate promising tax cuts via questionable economic models. 

The taxi driver on the way home was more receptive to my suggestions that Arsenal will be a serious title threat this season, but I guess when you’re charging £40 for 20 minutes work, you probably recognise it’s better to lay back and think of England when encountering such bravado. Metaphorically speaking, of course. 

Since then, I’ve watched the highlights of the match a couple of times and there are a few things that stood out for me. 

First, the M&T Bank Stadium has really, really, really, really, skinny big screens that suggest that humanity has lost its way a little. All the things that could have been invented and someone has come up with a means of replaying sport as if viewed through a letterbox. Given we’re in the process of replacing the Jumbotrons (copyright David Dein circa 1996) at the Emirates, I’m hoping we stick to a more regulation rectangular display. 

Second, Hector Bellerin has a very smooth face. After dedicating a couple of years to the pursuit of mo-fection, the man has gone full Gillette in pre-season. I wonder if it’s a reaction to the proliferation of bad facial hair that the team is now carrying. Fabio Vieira, Gabi Jesus and William Saliba have all brought dodgy goatee beards to the party this summer and I worry about what it’s doing for team confidence. Is Hector, like all those companies that plant trees to offset their carbon footprint, trying to even things out? We can but speculate. 

Talking of follicular matters, how on earth does Rob Holding look so different in every picture? I know many column inches have been written about the man’s trip to Turkey but hair alone doesn’t explain how he looks younger and younger as the weeks go by. At some point next season we’ll be defending a lead and Arteta is going to turn to the bench and he’ll be sitting there in a nappy.  

I know you’re enjoying this level of in-depth analysis, so one more…Gabriel Jesus has the eyes of a man who looks like he’s constantly worrying about whether he’s locked the front door or not. I’m sure he’s a happy-go-lucky chap in reality but those eyebrows of his are so puppy-dog expressive that they make me want to give him a big hug. Perhaps that’s something he’s been working on. A means of luring defenders into a false sense of security before he pounces. If so, it’s working. 

Jesus’ performances in the last week have convinced his new boss that the £45 million outlay to lure him to Arsenal was money well spent. 

“He creates chaos, he creates uncertainty and he’s always on your shoulder,” the boss said.

“He’s always there to nick the ball off you, he’s always in front of the goal. He’s a real threat and this is what we need. And then he’s the one. The moment we give the ball away he is straight away active and putting pressure and getting his team behind him.

“He has a lot of leadership skills, I can see straight away what he’s doing with the boys and he’s the type of guy that we want.”

Arsenal bid a hasty farewell to Baltimore after the win over Everton and are already in Florida ahead of Wednesday/Thursday’s match with Orlando City. 

From the boss there were kind words for the 35,000 Gooners who provided such vocal support.

“They feed (off it),” said Arteta of the enthusiasm directed towards his players. “We have had that around the training ground, and around the hotel. So thank you so much, it’s been a really good camp so far. I think the boys will have a good memory about this trip.”

That will certainly apply to Matt Turner. Returning to the States just three weeks after joining the Gunners, the new keeper has been a very visible presence on and off the pitch. He plated the full 90 minutes against Everton and will be pleased to have his first clean sheet.

“I’m really happy with him,” said Arteta. “The way he has settled in, he’s an extraordinary character, a lot of personality and he’s great at what we want.”

For his part, Turner is determined to give Aaron Ramsdale a run for his money and isn’t concerned he’ll pay a price on the international front having sacrificed guaranteed first team football at New England Revolution. 

“You have to think about your entire career,” he told ESPN. “You can’t make decisions based on one World Cup. Injuries happen and athletic careers are finite. I’ve wanted to take this game as far as I can, so to be able to represent a club like Arsenal is a dream come true.”

He added: “Mikel told me I am here to challenge for the starting role. We’re not in this business to just accept being second.”

You can’t argue with that mentality. 

Right, I should probably wrap things up and start focusing on the day job (and ice cream). 

Blogs will be back tomorrow and he may well have a new signing to chat about. Oleksandr Zinchenko’s proposed £30 million move appears to be progressing smoothly. If anything happens on that front we’ll cover it on Arseblog News. 

Catch you on the other side.

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